United Artists released Heaven’s Gate to theaters on November 19, 1980; grossing $3.5 million worldwide on a budget of $44 million. Michael Cimino directed the epic western which starred Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, and John Hurt.
Heaven’s Gate 30-Second Summary
One of the most discussed, least seen films in modern history. The notoriety is so horrendous that industry identities commonly use the title as a synonym for a Hollywood flop.
On a grand scale, Heaven’s Gate achieves so much, but so little in many viewers eyes. However, over time, the film that basically crushed a studio, survives with new aspects of appreciation of variable degrees from the average cinephile to students of film school.
With an original running time of five hours, twenty-five minutes, the studio cut down the film; releasing at least four more versions! The one now titled ‘original cut’ is the one most commonly available on DVD; coming in at just 219 minutes.
Wyoming’s infamous 19th Century Johnson County war was the loose basis for the film. It was a brutal conflict in which wealthy cattle men, backed by a trigger happy US Government, hired mercenaries to commit murder against mostly immigrant settlers.
Michael Cimino was the man with the vision
Director Michael Cimino captured the incredible cinema-scope spectacle. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a strong story to back it up. The Oscars nominated legendary camera auteur, Vilmos Zsigmondfrom, for an award in Art Direction for his troubles.
The very expensive Western soap opera has a pretty amazing ensemble cast. However, they either accomplish little, or are lost in the elaborate scenery. Most of the time, there is little motivation to their actions.
Whether they are at Harvard or in Montana or across the seas on a ship, no expense is spared on the finer period details.
Call it poetic. Call it a boring mess. If one is a movie buff of any kind, or an admirer of Westerns in general, you owe it to yourself to experience Heaven’s Gate at least once to judge.
They don’t make movies like this anymore, but major studios still churn out the flops.
**And that’s it from me. Let me know what you think of Heaven’s Gate in the comments below. Afterwards, may I suggest you track down ‘Final Cut‘ by Steven Bach—a book which explores the behind-the-scenes stories of the major fail the film became.
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